The day after Alibi Drinkery co-owner Lisa Monet Zarza opened her business in defiance of state orders for bars and restaurants to remain closed to dine-in business, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took her to court.
On Thursday, Ellison's office announced that he has filed lawsuits against the Lakeville restaurant and a Princeton business called Neighbors on the Rum. Later in the day, he filed for a temporary restraining order to force Alibi to close. Both businesses opened to in-person dining in defiance of Gov. Tim Walz's executive order meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. On Wednesday, Walz adjusted the order that expires at 11:59 p.m. Friday to continue the prohibition on indoor dining at restaurants until Jan. 11.
"Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville proudly announced its dangerous decision to increase the risk of community spread of COVID-19 in its community, recording multiple videos of its violations and promising to pack more people into enclosed indoor spaces in a period where the virus is still spreading" in the state, Ellison's office said in a statement Thursday. "When asked what she would do if officials asked her to close, Alibi Drinkery's owner stated that she would 'see them in court.' "
Reached Thursday, Zarza said she hadn't seen the lawsuit and could not comment on Ellison's statement.
The bar and restaurant was open again Thursday and continues to do a brisk business with people who believe that the state's actions are unfair and harmful, Zarza said.
"At the end of the day, all we want is our business open," she said. "People are out in numbers because they want to support us."
Zarza is a partner in the eatery with Ricardo Manuel Baldazo of Prior Lake. In September, he was charged with attempted murder and first-degree assault, accused of shooting at two Burnsville police officers from inside a home. Zarza said she couldn't discuss Baldazo's case, which is pending.
According to Ellison's office, Neighbors on the Rum opened its doors to 40-50 people Wednesday night.
"Even when confronted by local police officers, Neighbors on the Rum stated that it would willfully continue to defy Executive Order 20-99," the statement from Ellison's office said. "Minnesota Department of Health workers noted [that] Neighbors on the Rum was not only allowing on-premises dining, but also seating people closer than
6 feet apart, further increasing the chance of COVID-19 community spread."
Joe Holtz, Neighbors' owner, was having "a stiff drink" at a bar in Hudson, Wis., on Thursday when he returned a call seeking comment about the lawsuit. He opened the doors Wednesday night, he said, to help his struggling workers "have a chance for a decent Christmas." One of his waitresses made $1,200 in tips, he said, which he plans to match.
"That's really why I did it," Holtz said.
After months of cleaning and sanitizing to open, Holtz said he's frustrated to again be forced to offer only curbside service.
Joining the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, he thought, would mean strength in numbers. "I guess the attorney general's got a lot of power," Holtz said.
A roster provided by the coalition lists 150 Minnesota businesses it claimed are ready to reopen against state orders, including 89 bars and restaurants. But several of the business owners have since acknowledged they aren't as committed to rebelling as previously stated, organizer Darius Teichroew admitted.
"The list is being refined as we go. We did have a handful who, for some reason, didn't read the form they were filling out and thought they were just getting on an e-mail list," he said. "But we have added a few, too."
Some of the businesses, Teichroew said, have been scared off by Ellison's new actions.
Ellison said he knows businesses are struggling. "But what these establishments are doing is wrong. Not just wrong in breaking the law — wrong in exposing their loved ones, their customers, their employees, their communities, and potentially every Minnesotan to COVID-19. People will get sick, and some will die, because they're breaking the law."
But a group of restaurant and bar owners that gathered in the state Senate building Thursday called on Walz to allow them to reopen, saying they can operate safely.
"We have done everything you have asked. We have gone above and beyond," said Jean Hunn of Keys Café and Bakery. "But at some point it's exhausting."
Her family's restaurant has eight locations across the Twin Cities and one in Hudson. She said the one in Wisconsin has been very busy, but her Minnesota employees are struggling. Walz should follow Wisconsin's approach, Hunn said. "Telling us we can open up outside is just a slap in the face. It's like you're mocking us," she said of Walz's latest change allowing outdoor dining at 50% capacity.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, brought the business owners together. He called for less oversight of businesses reopening in defiance of Walz — and noted the Legislature's role in Ellison's budget.
"We're going to look at how many $10,000 fines he inflicted on these people that were absolutely desperate, and I'm going to expect that to come out of his budget," Gazelka said.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.